I was wondering for quite some time as to how I should start this article. The only way I could start talking about depression in science is being direct about it. Let’s face it- sometimes depression does creep into some of us who are doing science. I am writing this article to share my personal opinion about this immensely important aspect of research that not many dare to talk about. I will try and make it light and humorous without digressing from the topic.
I don’t know you (the person reading this). I don’t know if you are a PhD student or a post-doc or a faculty member or even a younger researcher. I don’t know if you have ever dislodged Mount Everest and put it on your head because a stupid experiment failed or could not be repeated. Don’t tell anyone…but I have! I also don’t know if you have let your personal life affect your research. If you have…you are outright stupid! Alright…so have I! So did all of this get entangled in a cornucopia of “my-life-is-a-hell” and put a thought of “let’s-fucking-end-it” into your head? If it have…welcome to the club of over thinkers. Also, let me welcome you guys to the club of “people-who-can-change-the-world”.
Let’s analyze this psyche a bit! Mind you the only psyche I’m close to is “psychedelic rock”. Bad joke right? (Oh I suck!) All those who think this might end up eating up your precious time…you’re right! This will eat up your time…quit right away! You are an average mind! All this is meant for people with deeper intellect and deeper feelings, who can’t handle themselves.
Anyway, now that we are a little less in number let’s continue with the analysis. So what is the reason for your anxiety?
- A failed experiment?
- You had earth-shattering results which have suddenly given up on you and will not repeat themselves.
- You don’t know which direction to take your research into.
- Your supervisor is giving you a hard time
- You had a break-up and cannot focus on work.
- You feel lonely and nobody understands you.
- You just feel depressed for no apparent reason.
I will give you my perspective on how to overcome all this. And if you are wondering who-the-fuck-am-I to give you all this overdose of advice…I am one of those who have experienced a little bit of all of the above. And no I’m not writing to you from afterlife…I am currently pursuing research at Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces (Potsdam, Germany)
- A failed experiment. If an experiment has failed…let me put it straight to you…YOU HAVE TO REPEAT IT. Why? Only if you repeat it twice more would you really understand that yes it has failed. Before that…there’s no point of being depressed! Let’s come to the second part “IT HAS REALLY FAILED”. This is the time you start blaming others like the chemicals you ordered from Sigma Aldrich wasn’t fine, the incubator or the reaction vessel or any other instrument wasn’t working fine. Then? YOU HAVE NO REASON TO BLAME YOURSELF FOR IT. Now let’s consider that you had taken care of that. Then, it means that your hypothesis was wrong. Who do you blame for it? YOUR SUPERVISOR (whoever it is…a PhD student, a postdoc or a senior scientist). If he/she has not been able to foresee it, IT’S THEIR FAULT. If they have not had time to look into it or if they are too busy or if they have a wall separating you and them. IT IS STILL THEIR FAULT! YOU…as absurd as it may sound…ARE NOT AT FAULT! If you have made a mistake during the experiment. It’s not a fault really…it’s just experience! YOU WILL GET OVER THIS!
- You had earth-shattering results which have suddenly given up on you and will not repeat themselves. It goes in the same direction as point number one. Mostly! If you cannot repeat it, it means…it’s not a fact! Well not always! You were perfectly sure that you had done everything right and it gave the right results. Then? Well…write down everything you did…from where you have taken the Milli-Q water to which instrument you have used and what you have used. If you have not checked all of that, you should learn to do it! That’s all. And still if it doesn’t repeat itself! IT WAS NOT AN EARTH SHATTERING RESULT. More importantly, RESEARCH IS NOT ABOUT EARTH SHATTERING RESULTS! It’s about learning, accumulating, understanding and presenting data scientifically and articulately.
- You still don’t know which direction to take your research into. If you are a young scientist, this is not your job. It is your supervisor’s job. If you can’t talk about it with your supervisor and he/she doesn’t give a damn…CHANGE YOUR SUPERVISOR! HE/SHE IS AT FAULT! NOT YOU! If you are a postdoc, give yourself time, postdoc is the last time you can really try something new all by yourself and nothing new comes easy in this world. Nobody knows it as much as you do…remember your battles during PhD? Remember how you resurrected yourself as the DARK KNIGHT? You are the hero that you need…not the one that you deserve. If you are a new PI…let’s face it…you either try it once more…or look for something you can do better. It’s not the end of the road. Look up the age at which Colonel Sanders created KFC!
- Your supervisor is giving you a hard time. There can be two reasons for it. One. You haven’t been competent. If that is the case, you just need to take a break. By a break I mean, forgetting research and all your troubles for a week (at least). Go for a trip. Sky dive! Dive into the depth of the ocean. Learn a new instrument/language. Make new friends. Go clubbing. Go to the concentration camps around the world and see how little your problem is. But when you get back to work just remember not to repeat the same mistakes. Do everything with care and properly. Record everything! Two. Your supervisor is not a good person and even worse…a horrible supervisor. HE/SHE DOESN’T DESERVE YOU! They are at fault if they can’t distinguish between Gold and Fool’s gold…forget about diamonds! Just change your supervisor. He/she doesn’t have the right to dictate your life. You will not allow it either.
- You had a break-up and cannot focus on work. This one is a little difficult. But there’s always someone you can go back to. Your friends…tell them how you feel. Your parents…open up to them…tell them how you feel. Most of them will understand. Watch movies. Go shopping. Do all the things that you wanted to. Right now you are important. In fact you are the most important. Nothing else is. Pamper yourself in every possible way you can. However, do not shy away from work. Show yourself up at work every day. Work mechanically. But do it! If things don’t work out (they might not) still do them. Spend all the time that you can in the lab if you don’t have anything fun planned. Eat well and get fat…or start looking at your physique…go for a run…swim…just keep your mind engaged. One day you will realize that the person was sent to your life to teach you to be better…to teach you to live better…to teach you to get back to people you were ignoring. Life is really more than that! Cheer up…try it! 🙂
- You feel lonely and nobody understands you. Pack your bags and go out for a solo trip immediately. You will find so many people…just like you. Share your feelings with a random person…someone who doesn’t know you. They will listen to you and give you the best advice. If you don’t like travelling…join a new course-language, sports, gym, dance, singing- anything that you like. There are millions of others like you and you are not one of them. There are millions of others doing science just like you. Ok…not millions…thousands…or may be hundreds…but you will find people who will understand you. You just have to take yourself out and give yourself a chance to meet them.
- You just feel depressed for no apparent reason. For you my friend, all of the above might mean something or nothing. If that is the case, just do all of the above specially, points 5 and 6. If you still find yourself depressed…you should see a friend. Sometimes a shrink can be your friend too but before that…you should see a real friend who cares about you and doesn’t charge money. 🙂
I don’t know if this was helpful at all but depression is not the way to be. It’s not something you should ignore. If you think you are about to be depressed then you should do everything you can to get away from it. If you have nothing better to do…you can reach this weirdo at the contact given along with this article. Cheers! Hic! Cheeeers!
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